Australia Logan City turning human waste into energy in move to go carbon neutral within two years

00:16  12 october  2020
00:16  12 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a close up of a person sitting on the ground: Biochar is the result of dewatering sewage then burning what's left in a furnace. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC News Biochar is the result of dewatering sewage then burning what's left in a furnace. (Supplied)

Queensland's Logan City is the first local government area in Australia to turn human waste into energy after trialling a state-of-the-art gasification plant at the Loganholme Waste Water Treatment plant.

The $17 million plant takes biosolids, a substance made from the treatment of sewage, and generates electricity.

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It also creates an inert substance called biochar that can be used for agricultural purposes.

The council believes the process will save Logan ratepayers $500,000 a year in the running costs of its wastewater operation.

It will help meet a goal for council operations to be carbon neutral by 2022 via renewable energy and the delivery of carbon offsets.

Mayor Darren Power said the council region, south of Brisbane, was setting an example for other local governments across Australia.

"We will be carbon neutral by 2022 in Logan and that is great news for our ratepayers," he said.

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Engineer James Joyce from the firm Pyrocal, which designed and built the plant, said there were many steps to turn what got flushed down a toilet into the biochar substance and electricity generated at the plant.

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First, the biosolid product goes through a process to reduce its water content, before being dried into pieces the size of a "hockey puck".

"We dry it down to 10 per cent moisture and 90 per cent solid so you can put it into this plant," Mr Joyce said.

It then goes to the furnace where it is carbonised and generates power.

"Once it goes into this plant, it is heated up to 600 or so degrees, which basically carbonises it and turns it into a carbon-rich material, and obviously kills all of the pathogens.

"It gets rid of the microplastics and all the nasties that are traditionally in biosolids, and gives you a char product."

Solution to a smelly problem

A hot gas stream from the gasification process generates electricity which powers not only the plant but the drying process of the raw biosolid.

"It is like a big loop involving the energy and the carbon," Mr Joyce said.

He said the biosolid that emerged had no smell.

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Biosolids have typically been used as fertilisers on Australian pastures, but Mr Joyce said that practice had been banned in Europe.

"There is a pushback against that because there is this realisation that there are microplastics and other pollutants that stay in the biosolids and end up in the food chain if you put that to land," he said.

"In Europe you can't put that to land. It has to go to landfill or it has to be carbonised in a process like this."

Biochar 'good for soil'

Biosolids can contain microplastics, and also often PFAS.

But Pyrocal's biochar is inert because all of the contaminants have been burnt away.

Mr Joyce said biochar had many uses, but was particularly good as a soil conditioner in improving the ability for soil to hold moisture.

Logan Water's sustainable project leader Johanna Johnson said the process would reduce the wastewater treatment facility's carbon output by 480,000 tonnes per year.

"Biosolid is sticky, it has high odour [and is] really good for farmers because it has high water content, but isn't great for the environment in that it releases a lot of carbon emissions," Ms Johnson said.

She said six trucks a day were leaving the plant carrying biosolids, bound for the Darling Downs.

But when the plant was running at full capacity, biosolid output would be reduced by 90 per cent.

"Lots of people from around the world are looking at this process and the intellectual property of being able to dry [biosolids] and the gasification process," she said.

The project was jointly funded by the council and the Federal Government, which contributed $6 million to the project.

How to save even more money on your energy bill .
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